I once believed that the hot springs of one area were much the same as those of another, and that when you’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all. It seems I was mistaken. With waters ranging from milky white, to blue, green, muddy and clear, not only do hot springs look different, but the minerals they contain, and healing properties they possess, also vary from region to region. Taiwan, more than most other countries, is actually particularly blessed with a wide variety of different kinds of springs; some of the most famous lie in Tainan’s Guanziling關仔嶺.
Guanziling’s naturally cloudy-white water is very rare, and can only be found in two other places in the world. The color comes from the mineral rich clay deposits which lie underneath the town. The springs are said to have healing properties, but what really makes them famous are their apparent beautifying attributes. The water, and more especially the mud, leaves your skin feeling soft and smooth, and has been dubbed as a natural cosmetic.
When you’re finished soaking in the tub, you’ll find that this is one spa town with a lot more on offer than just its hot springs. The town center has a couple of parks and is pleasant enough to walk around, but for the best that the area has to offer, you’ll have to drive just outside the main town. The first site you arrive at, the Water and Fire Cave水火洞 is perhaps Guanziling’s most famous. The underground springs contain huge amounts of methane which rises to the surface where it ignites and burns. At the Water and Fire Cave, the gas bubbles up through a pool of water. Despite the fact that the resulting flames are now fairly weak and less than a meter high (they used to burn as high as 3 meters into the air) the overall effect seeing fire rise out of water remains both interesting and unusual.
A few meters further along the road is the attractive Temple of Azure Clouds碧雲寺. In both its situation, and design, the temple is really very pretty. It sits in front of, and is overshadowed by a large, almost monolithic outcrop of rock, and the colorfully painted statues and carvings inside the temple complete its aesthetic allure. Another feature is the “Rice Cave” which lies just outside the main temple gate. The story goes that the cave, actually just a small hole in the rock, would naturally produce rice, enough for all of the temple’s people. One night though, a monk got greedy and took rice from the hole all night. From then on, not a single grain has been found in the cave.
The Rice Cave
Finally there’s the intriguingly named Big Fairy Temple 大仙寺. This huge temple complex with its large gardens, pagodas and shrines makes for a superb picnicking spot, just what you need after a long day’s sightseeing.
Hot springs, a natural marvel, and beautiful temples set amongst some gorgeous mountain scenery, it could only be Guanziling.
From Shinying to the south, or Chiayi to the north, make your way along Highway 1 until you reach route 172. Take this road past Baihe白河 and on to Guanziling.